Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Aquaponics update

Okay, this post is a perfect example of how far behind I've been lately. I wanted to put this up last October. I had the pictures ready to go, but I didn't have the time or the opportunity to post this until now. In my own defense, I did publish several titles in the last few months and this blog is sort of secondary to my real job of writing books. Plus, I spent a lot of my blogging space letting you all know about my new books, because that's kinda how it works.

Anyway, I've blogged in the past about my interest in aquaponics (a great introduction to the concept of aquaponics at this link, and some good links as well). Last spring, I introduced my own personal experiment in aquaponics. As you'll see in the images below, I purchased two stock tanks for the grow beds and filled them with lava rock. My reasoning behind this was that lava is both lighter and far less expensive than the more popular expanding clay pebbles. Throughout the year, I came to understand the reasons for this.

The lava rocks worked, and I'm certain they were lighter than river stones and probably even clay, but they have very rough edges. This made it difficult to work with, and some of the plants weren't too happy. Our cabbage and lettuce never really took off, which was especially disappointing in the case of the lettuce. This is supposed to be the perfect environment for lettuce. From what I've read, lettuce thrives in hydroponic and aquaponic situations. 

Further aggravating the problem was the fact that my tomatoes went nuts. We had purchased several small plants of different organic varieties, and grew a few more from seed. We soon learned that we had gone overboard with the tomatoes. They filled their grow tank, burst over the sides, and even tangled themselves up along the roof of the greenhouse. The result was that the lower bed received very little light and the other plants were struggling. The basil survived, but disappointed. The zucchini took off for a while and produced a decent amount of edible produce, but eventually died off. All of the plants seemed inclined towards fungus or mildew problems due to the wet environment, especially after the weather began to cool. 

During the warmer months, we were able to leave the doors and windows of our small greenhouse open and this helped to combat the humidity. By October, we had to keep it closed up for fear of frost. And quite honestly, I forgot to open it up during the day a few times, and also to close it back up at night.

You can see earlier pictures at the second link above, but here's a look at how the summer ended:

In case you're wondering, the fish are located in a separate, much larger stock tank located under my patio where the water stays cool and protected. I used a 350 gallon stock tank and, after cycling it for a few weeks to get it ready for fish, purchased two small koi fish. I wanted the koi because of their hardiness, and to get the system cycling correctly on its own. By the end of summer, I still hadn't added any trout, but the koi had grown from about an inch to seven or eight. 

After what I've learned from my first year, I think I'll pull out most of the lava rock and replace it with something more forgiving.I still plan on adding some trout, but I'll probably scale the system back a bit. The 350 gallon tank should be capable of supporting about 75 full grown fish, but I never planned to go that far. I will probably start with 15-20 fingerlings and see how things progress. From the beginning, it has been one of my highest priorities to take precautions for the well-being of the fish. Yes, I do plan on eating some trout, but until then I want them to be healthy and happy. 

I may also reconfigure things to better use what sunlight I get in the backyard. In the past, we have had trouble with vegetables planted alongside the house getting scorched from all the sun. Now, suddenly it seems our backyard hardly gets any sunlight. Ah, the joys of being a farmer. Kind of. 

If any of this is interesting to you, please check those links. Especially the first one, which will explain exactly how aquaponics works and where you can find more information. And if you're wondering why all of this, take a moment to consider how important our food supply is. What we put in our bodies can greatly affect our health (same goes for our families and friends). If that's not enough motivation for you, take a look at the price of food lately. A system like this is practically self-supporting and once its running, can provide a source of high nutrient, organic vegetables and protein at almost zero cost. Not to mention that this is the sort of thing you can do at  home, not only in your backyard, but on a patio, deck, or in a window with good sun exposure.

That's it for now. Thanks for stopping by.... Oh, and one more thing. You can check out my books here. Nothing on aquaponics, but plenty of good old sci-fi and fantasy. Remember: support your local authors and bookstores!

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